After several months of Makati restaurants “going dry,” Makati City Hall has now allowed them to resume selling alcoholic drinks to their customers via Ordinance No. 2020-165. Restaurant owners are more than relieved to add back beer, wine, cocktails, and other liquors to their beverage menus, giving added revenue to their already sales-strapped businesses.
What makes this ordinance extra compelling is the role that a group of restaurant owners played in helping to get it enacted. In a press statement, Makati City Mayor Abigail “Abby” Binay herself acknowledges these efforts, “I would like to thank the restaurant community in Makati for their diligence in helping the city government come up with viable solutions to concerns arising from the crisis.”
It all started last July 14 when Agnes Almeda, chief operating officer of Pablo Bistro and Cartel Deli (both located in Makati), launched an online petition via change.org to allow the moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages in Makati restaurants. The petition, spread primarily via Facebook, read, “We fully support the government in its advocacy to protect its citizens from further harm and we do not in any way condone circumventing the law in order to promote our interests. Unfortunately, this was not the case for a number of establishments that tried to take advantage of the situation. However, we do not think it is fair that the rest of the compliant restaurants in Makati will be the one to suffer the consequences from the said incidents.”
Those aforementioned establishments referred primarily to Skye Bar which was shut down in late June “for illegally operating and violating laws and protocols aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19,” according to a Makati City Hall spokesperson. The incident involved over 100 people gathering without socially distancing at the bar. Soon after that infraction, Makati City imposed a liquor ban starting July 14 covering all bars and restaurants.
In an email interview with ANCX, Almeda shares her reason for starting the petition, “I felt that serving alcohol with food does not in any way pose a higher health risk for our patrons.” She adds, “We are all doing our best to stay open and to do that we need to be able to give our patrons the full dining experience they expect and deserve—whether it’s a glass of wine with their steak or a gin & tonic with their paella.” Apparently, both restaurateurs and the dining public agreed, with the petition garnering more than 9,000 signatures.
In effect, the liquor ban put a virtual stop to the operations of many restaurants. Restaurateur Elbert Cuenca recalls how good business was the day before the liquor ban went into effect. “[Our guests] wanted to do one last hurrah before liquor ban. For us, it was a happy day as it felt no different from a normal, pre-pandemic day. It gave us hope. The next day, both restaurants were completely empty. From that day, we’d have at most two tables of two customers, and sometimes have zero sales.” His higher-end Elbert’s Steak Room and Metronome were hit harder than his more casual Elbert’s Pizzeria and Elbert’s Diner. He relates, “We were down to a mere 5% to 10% of pre-pandemic sales.”
Cognizant of the petition by restaurant owners, Mayor Binay agreed to a Zoom meeting on July 29 with several restaurant owners in attendance, including Almeda and Cuenca, who had also raised his concerns with Mayor Binay via Facebook. He relates, “I messaged her a couple of times to express my fears and concerns, also asking if there was a way to exclude responsible and legitimate restaurants from the ban, differentiating us from bars and gastropubs.”
Thanks to that Zoom meeting, the restaurateurs were able to air their concerns. Cuenca relates, “The mayor was very amiable, candid, and open. She was very accommodating to hearing from us suggestions that would help us get our businesses back on track. Since bars were still not allowed to operate, we discussed ways to differentiate restaurants that sell primarily sell food from bars that serve food as accompaniments to liquor.”
Mayor Binay shared the outcome of that Zoom call, “The said meeting led to the enactment of comprehensive dine-in guidelines that allow restaurants to serve food and beverages including alcoholic drinks, on certain conditions, except during enhanced community quarantine when dine-in service is banned.” Those guidelines mandate that alcoholic drinks be served only in conjunction with a dine-in full meal, with the following prescriptions:
- Two wine glasses of wine per person or maximum of one 750 ml bottle of wine for two diners; two units of 330 ml bottles or two beers by the glass of equivalent amount; and two servings of spirit/cocktail glasses.
- Customers shall not be allowed to consume alcoholic beverages “in bulk,” “in pitchers,” “in buckets,” or “in cases.”
- Neither food bought outside the establishment nor food ordered for later consumption or take-out food shall qualify as a meal that can be accompanied by alcoholic beverage/s.
The ordinance limits alcoholic consumption to restaurants, excluding bars, and as Almeda states,
“gives us a fighting chance to survive and at the same time to show [Mayor Binay] that we are responsible business owners who can implement such guidelines.”
Also welcome news is the just-announced shortening of curfew hours to 10 pm to 5 am starting September 1 across Metro Manila LGUs. The earlier curfew of 8 pm certainly hampered restaurants, especially those that are more conducive to dinner, like Metronome, Elbert’s Steak Room, and Pablo Bistro.
With curfew to be shortened, Cuenca still has a few more items on his wish list: allowing minors to dine out with their families, and clarity regarding the use of face shields. “We seek clear directions, and less rules and restrictions. Our market is confused,” he laments.
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Almeda agrees, “I think there should be a unified campaign by the LGUs in promoting safe dining guidelines like in Chicago and New York that will serve as the businesses’ guide to operations. We noticed that a lot of the times, there are some vague rules that leave room for interpretation. It would be great if there are guide materials (like videos/infographics) we can share with our employees and guests that are easy to read, understand and implement so that people know what to expect even before entering any restaurant.”
In the meantime, there’s always hope when the private sector and government can meet, discuss concerns, and come out with an agreed-upon solution that addresses both sides. Mayor Binay proclaims, “We understand that business must continue in spite of the pandemic, especially since many of their employees are city residents. Thus, we appreciate their cooperation and their willingness to work with us in order to keep their businesses afloat without sacrificing the safety and health of our #ProudMakatizens.”